Learn how to make a polite greeting to a new acquaintance and what to say when meeting an old friend. This lesson covers the first important steps in learning Japanese.
This lesson has focus on language structure and vocabulary. If you would like to learn about the Japanese characters, or how to pronounce each character, please look at the lessons in the sections “Pronunciation” and “Writing in Japanese” found at the lessons overview page.
Key Topics Covered
|Content||:||Basic casual and formal greetings|
|Grammar||:||です (desu) – a word that resembles English “is”.|
|か (ka) – question marker.|
|はい (hai) – yes|
Dialogue – Casual Greeting
Greetings are very important in most languages. In Japanese, greetings and polite phrases are given a special importance, as they reveal that you show proper respect to the other person.
The following dialogue is an example of how a conversation between two people knowing each well other may start. In the dialogue, the colleagues mr Smith and mr Tanaka meet. Mr. Smith just returned from a long vacation.
The conversation is written using Japanese characters on the top. Below it is written in Romaji, with Japanese using on the English alphabet. You can also find an English translation on the right side.
スミス: こんにちは。 たなか: こんにちは。 げんき です か。 スミス: はい、 げんき です。
Sumisu: Konnichiwa. Tanaka: Konnichiwa. Genki desu ka? Sumisu: Hai, genki desu.
Smith: Good day. Tanaka:
Good day. How are you? Smith: I am fine.
||Added after a name to be polite. Similar to Mr and Mrs.|
||good day, hi, hello|
||healthy, in a good mood, etc.|
|です||desu||is (a language construct called copula)|
||? (question marker, a language construct belonging to particles)|
Note that the phrase Genki desu ka? meaning How are you? in Japanese is not at all as common to use as the English phrase “How are you”. It is not used only as a greeting for every person you meet. It is used if you really want to know if the person is feeling well, eg. if he/she has been sick or looks gloomy. It also is used among people that know each other, but haven’t met for a time, and therefore may wonder how it is.
The greeting konnichiwa is a daytime greeting. There are other greetings that are used for other times of the day. You can learn more about them in the language reference section on Greetings.
Dialogue – Polite Introduction
The following dialogue is an example of a polite greeting between two people that do not know each other since before. It is quite polite, and you will probably hear and use it many times when you meet new Japanese people if you are in a business situation.
This dialogue is highly formalized, and can just be taken as is. In English there are actually no perfect translations of these expressions. It may look a bit strange if you look at the literal translation. I have tried to translate the actual meaning of the words, instead of converting them to English phrases, as they also reflect the Japanese way of thinking. If it is too strange for you, just remember that it is very good to know these phrases. They are used quite mechanically, so just try to memorize them.
- Hajimemashite is related to the words 始め, hajime, meaning start or beginning, and hajimete, meaning for the first time. It is implied that it is the first time the two people meet, so the word is often used to greet someone you meet for the first time.
- Continuing with the next sentence, it starts with the name, and then the desu. Desu can in this situation be translated as (I) am. Read more about the copula desu in Lesson 2 and in the grammar section To be.
- The phrase yoroshiku onegaishimasu, or sometimes even douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu, means something like “please be kind to me” or “please take care of me” in this situation. It is commonly used in Japanese, in various other situations too, such as for showing gratitude in advance or when asking for a favor etc.
||for the first time / how do you do|
||please take care of (me) / be kind (to me)|
Try to answer these questions. The answers can be found below the questions.
1. What expression would you use only when meeting a person for the first time?
b) Hai, genki.
c) Genki desu ka?
2. What does “genki” mean?
b) healthy, happy
c) good day
3. What would be a proper answer to the phrase “Hajimemashite, Tanaka desu”, if your name was Smith?
a) Hai, Smith desu.
b) Hajimemashite, Smith desu.
c) Smith, genki desu.
The answers are 1.a, 2.b, 3.b
Notes on Japanese Culture
The phrase yoroshiku onegai shimasu is related to the words yoroshii meaning good, and onegai suru meaning doing a favor. Therefore the literal translation would be something like “please be good to me”.
About business cards…
- In a business situation, these two people are likely to stand straight in front of each other, bowing. After this exchange of phrases, the meishi, business cards are often exchanged.
- When you give someone your business card, you hand it over using both hands, so that the receiver may read your card when taking it. The receiver takes it with both hands, and reads it immediately. You should not put a meishi into your pocket or so, but handle it with respect, and during the meeting it is common to have all received business cards in front of you on the table.
Read more in the following sections.
- Language Reference section on Greetings
Thanks goes to Mark Rogers for comments on this lesson.